The Supreme Court on Wednesday said it was concerned about people dying during manual scavenging and while cleaning sewers, observing that nowhere in the world do people get “sent to gas chambers to die”, PTI reported.

The court said caste discrimination persisted in the country despite more than 70 years of Independence.

A bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra, and comprising Justices MR Shah and BR Gavai, asked Attorney General KK Venugopal why proper protective gear such as masks and oxygen cylinders were not being provided to people who clean sewers and manholes. “Four to five people are dying due to this every month,” said the judges. “All human beings are equal but are not being provided equal facilities by authorities.”

In July, the Centre had directed states and Union territories to bring an end to manual scavenging and cited the rising number of deaths during the cleaning of sewers and septic tanks. In a letter dated July 12, Housing and Urban Affairs Secretary Durga Shanker Mishra advised the chief secretaries of all states and Union Territories to set up Emergency Response Sanitation Units in major cities having a municipal corporation, a water and sewerage board and population of more than one lakh people.

Though manual scavenging is banned under the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and Their Rehabilitation Act, 2013, individuals, local bodies and contractors still force people to clean sewers and septic tanks. Workers are often not provided protective gear, training or backup support by their employer.

The Supreme Court, in March 2014, had called for criminalising entry into sewers without safety gear. It said Rs 10 lakh compensation should be given to families of those who die in such cases.

Also read:

  1. How Mumbai’s sanitation workers fought the municipal corporation – and won
  2. Manual scavenging is illegal, so why do states continue to support the practice?
  3. A woman in MP recounts the trauma of watching her husband die in a tank full of faeces
  4. Ghaziabad: Five workers die of suffocation inside manhole at drainage project site
  5. In Agra, fear of eviction stalls the fight for justice for a man who died after cleaning septic tank
  6. How do other countries clean their sewers and is there something India can learn from them?

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